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Supply shortages, sickness hinder quake relief in China

Rescuers, including Buddhist monks, carried an earthquake victim wrapped in a blanket in western China’s Qinghai Province yesterday. China poured rescue crews and equipment into a mountainous Tibetan region after strong quakes killed hundreds of people and injured thousands. Rescuers, including Buddhist monks, carried an earthquake victim wrapped in a blanket in western China’s Qinghai Province yesterday. China poured rescue crews and equipment into a mountainous Tibetan region after strong quakes killed hundreds of people and injured thousands. (Associated Press)
By Anita Chang
Associated Press / April 16, 2010

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JIEGU, China — Earthquake survivors shivered through a second night outdoors in a remote Tibetan corner of western China, with rescuers fighting altitude sickness and dealing with a lack of supplies. The death toll rose to 760.

People with broken limbs cried in pain; medical teams could offer little more than injections. A doctor at the Qinghai provincial hospital, where the severely injured were being flown, said she had no idea how many were being treated because there was no time to count.

Stunned survivors wandered the dusty streets of Jiegu, where relief workers estimated 70 to 90 percent of the low-slung town of wood-and-mud housing had collapsed.

Hundreds gathered to sleep in a plaza around a 50-foot statue of the mythical Tibetan King Gesar, wrapped in blankets taken from homes shattered by Wednesday morning’s quakes.

“There’s nothing to eat. We’ve just been drinking water,’’ said Zhaxi Zuoma, a 32-year-old camped with thousands of others on a rocky field. They asked a reporter to bring food the next day.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 760 people had died, 243 people were missing, and 11,477 were injured, 1,174 of them severely. The worst of the quakes measured magnitude 6.9 by the US Geological Survey and 7.1 by China’s earthquake administration.

Rescue vehicles snaked along in a 12-hour drive from the provincial capital into the mountainous region, which trembled with aftershocks. The altitude averages 13,000 feet, leaving some rescuers breathless and ill. Even sniffer dogs were affected.

To reinforce official concern for a Tibetan area that saw anti-government protests two years ago, Premier Wen Jiabao arrived to meet survivors. President Hu Jintao, in Brazil after visiting Washington, canceled scheduled stops in Venezuela and Peru.

“In recent years, the Tibetan areas have become more sensitive, and we can’t rule out the possibility that the government could use the earthquake to boost its relationship with Tibetans,’’ said Zhang Boshu, who has written about Tibet from his post with the philosophy institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

More than 10,000 soldiers, police, firefighters, and medical workers were already in Yushu as of yesterday, Zou Ming, disaster relief director with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told reporters in Beijing.

The crush of relief efforts left the town’s roads jammed. “I’m now stuck in my car, unable to move at all. Trucks and cars are all over,’’ said Ren Yu, general manager of Yushu Hotel.

Officials said they welcomed offers of help from other countries and organizations, but they indicated they did not need foreign rescue teams and warned volunteers against going to the region because of limited access and resources.

But people still arrived from neighboring areas to look for the dead.

Just after dusk, about 20 Buddhist monks and their friends sat by a pile of smoldering rubble where the Jieji temple used to be. Next to them lay the body of a middle-aged monk, covered in a blanket. Four other bodies were in a nearby car.

“We’ve come to bring their bodies home,’’ said Silang Pingcuo, who came with the others by motorcycle from neighboring Tibet.

Officials said food, clothing, quilts, and tents were needed.

But delivering supplies is slow-going because there is but one main road from the provincial capital, and the airport is small and overworked.

Xinhua reported about 550 injured people would be flown to larger cities for treatment.